Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sage Advice

"We all know how important the first sentence is to any story, it grabs the reader and pulls them in. We've been taking the first sentence of famous novels and writing our own little stories with them. Today we are gonna steal from F Scott Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby .

In 500 words or less, write a short story/flash fiction starting with this as your opening line: In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since."

I don't really have much to say about this other than I feel I've written better. However, part of this exercise is in the process and practice of writing under specific conditions that will hopefully, over time, increase quality.

So with that in mind, 480 words:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Don’t bury a hatchet in a pile of shit.” I recollected his stern, serious face imparting his oft perplexing wisdom.

At 42 years old, I still couldn’t figure out what the hell he meant by those cryptic words any more than my 12 year old self. Wide eyed as if I’d received the secret to life itself, but too afraid to ask for what it meant other than the obvious.

I had my theories, of course. Dismissed them one by one as experience taught me all the really important life lessons. If you fall, get back up. You reap what you sow. Don’t put the cart before the horse. Those truisms that resonate throughout time and circumstance.

I glanced over at Dad. 83 years wore a body down. The man I knew from my youth faded into the skeletal figure hooked up to all the wonders of modern medicine. Wires and tubes sustaining him even against nature and the body’s will. The subtle, yet incessant beeping, a testament that his heart still beat. The soft buzz and whirl and breath of mechanized life creating a helpless cyborg of the person who I always thought invincible.

A marrow deep sorrow cloaked me in a blanket of melancholy so heavy I couldn’t even mourn the loss of such a great man. Tears and sadness could wait until later. I stood and went to the window. The view below offered nothing but the coarse, monochromatic gravel roof of a lower level. The sky above, however, nearly radiated with the purest azure I’d seen in a long time. Or maybe it’d been too long since I noticed.

I turned away from a day so perfect it seemed to mock my heavy heart. I returned to the uncomfortable wood and vinyl chair and reached for Dad’s frail hand.

“Dad,” I started. My eyes focused on the space of nothing between us. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I my whole life…” I swallowed. Closed my eyes.

“Son?” A mere breath of a whisper I almost didn’t hear.

I half stood and bent forward, not believing he’d roused.

“What did you mean?” I asked urgently. “What did you mean by ‘don’t bury a hatchet in a pile of shit?’ I have to know.”

He wheezed and coughed, grimacing; his eyes pinched. I leaned in closer and realized he was laughing. I waited until he settled. I thought for a moment he’d fallen back asleep, but his cloudy eyes reopened.

“What it means…” He took a rattling breath. “…is don’t bury a hatchet in shit.”

“That’s it?”

Only the long steady beep of a flat line replied.

I shook my head in wonderment. Still the same, even at the very last.

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